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THIS week the PAC observed Heroes Day on the anniversary of the death of the man considered to be the movement’s philosophical guide, Anton Muziwakhe Lembede.
This year the commemoration coincided with the the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Paarl Uprisings, which resulted in 19 PAC members being sentenced to death and hanged by the apartheid regime.
The life of Lembede was characterised by a strong will to succeed. Born on a farm in KwaZulu-Natal, he started formal schooling at the age of 13, defying all odds to become a teacher. While he was teaching, he studied through Unisa, where he earned a BA, LLB and an MA in philosophy – all by correspondence. When he died, at only 33, he was studying towards a doctorate in law.
Lembede recognised that revolutionaries needed skills to put at the service of their people. He made no excuses for failure. As the first president of the ANC Youth League, he is regarded as one of the architects of the 1949 programme of action, which marked the shift in the ANC’s strategy towards mass action, civil disobedience, strikes and boycotts and laid the foundations for the debates which would later lead to the PAC split from the ANC.
Today, in much of the country, the movement of Mangaliso Sobukwe appears to be a spent force.
The days when a man like Philip Kgosana could lead 30 000 to 50 000 people on a long protest march in Cape Town are long over. And very often when the PAC makes news these days, it is about infighting, for instance at its recent congress in the Eastern Cape.
It would be a pity if a tribute to those who lost their lives in confronting the apartheid regime in 1962 became a platform for demagogues to outdo one another and their political rivals – real or imagined.
Instead, this commemoration could be used to inspire young people with the life of Lembede and the way he fought the odds to acquire skills in the service of his people. At a time when life for many young South Africans lacks much hope, the PAC could use the story of Lembede to point a way forward.